I love the indigo hillsides of bluebonnet season, but its the sunrise fields that come after bluebonnet season, that I most adore. The reds, ambers, blacks, whites, greens, and wheat blonde flowers, both blooming and crunchy, ready to drop seed, are my favorites. We took a walk along one of our cities bayous to capture what is in my daughters time, and the spring season in Texas, ephemeral. Our quilts go with us, always.
I hosted a beginner's Indigo Shibori Workshop here at my home in Downtown Houston this past weekend. It was a wild and windy day, but that didn't stop us from enjoying each other's company, and discovering new ways to wrap, fold, clamp and dye!
We started inside by sharing what brought each of us to the workshop, and where our interest lies. We had an origami artist in the group, an engineer who weaves and has had experience dyeing before, but not with natural materials. We had a special education teacher who is also a watercolorist. I loved the idea of her interest in watercolor crossing over to into natural dyeing, there are so many connections there with water and pigment. And then there were a few curious seekers, who left the workshop ready to start their own vats!
We covered two shibori techniques which were invented in the mid 19th Century: itajime and arashi. With regards to an art form whose earliest samples date back to the 8th century, these itajime (fold and clamp) and arashi (pole wrapping) methods are modern in the realm of art history. We worked with a protein and a cellulose fiber: a 35" x 35" silk scarf and a linen dish towel.
I was amazed at how each student took the process and folded their scarves a certain way, to achieve such varying results with the arashi. Triangular, on a diagonal, straight forward and wrapped very tightly.... once we had our materials bound we went outside and began the first of five dips. The first dip is always my favorite, watching that teal green transform to deep blue before my eyes. Once we got into the rhythm of the dipping, I made herbal tea and coffee for everyone, and we enjoyed a lemon slice and shortbread in the warm sun.
When the dipping was done and we rinsed the shibori, the excitement in everyone was as high as the sky. It's so satisfying to see the results of things that you've worked on for the last three hours, especially a process that is new to you. I look forward to seeing my students wear their silk scarves, and enjoying their new tea towels at home.
I offer 3-5 beginners shibori workshops each year. It's limited to 6 students per workshop- we get lots of one on one time!
For workshop information please visit www.campfirequilts.com
Living in a house with no central heat, and a wood fireplace as a main source of warmth, cold winters days are best spent in the kitchen, with the gas flame on low, slowly reducing a soup or stew throughout the day.
This Winter Stew is hearty, flavorful, and great for boosting the immune system. I like to use the scraps in my veggie drawer. What I mean is, the leftover baby carrots that have turned all dry, or the sad lonely potatoes strewn across the drawer.
My recipe has turned into a watercolor painting, so it is high time I archive this beloved recipe, and share it here.
What does this have to do with quilts? It all has to do with staying warm.
1/4 c olive oil
2-3 lbs lean stew meat (I like mine heavy on the meat side, nothing worse than a bowl of beef stew with no beef...)
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 c beef broth
1 bottle of good stout beer
1 c red wine
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs thyme
1 tbs worcestershire
2 bay leaves
6-8 medium sized golden potatoes, skin on
1 large onion
2 cups carrots chopped, skin on
Chop your onion and fire up a medium sized pot.
Brown onion and beef in olive oil.
Add all sauces, stock and seasonings.
Allow to simmer for an hour and a half.
Now add veggies, simmer for an hour on low.
I have learned to put my veggies in much later after the stew has reduced, so that they remain intact, and don't turn the rest of the stew into mush.
The stew should be quietly, gently bubbling.
Test potato tenderness with a sharp knife, when soft, stew is ready.
Serve with hot, fresh bread!
The beautiful Memorial Park in Houston lends a bit of a natural respite to those of us living in the city. The 3 mile loop is great to run or walk, and when the temperatures drop here, that's one spot I run to. Infront of the golf course is a patch of maintained garden, the sort that rotates color every 2-3 months. I had been eyeballing a dense thicket of golden marigolds for weeks, thinking how I would never get my hands on that many marigolds again, or at least not this season.
The following week my girlfriend and I walked passed them, and with December creeping in, I knew they'd be gone any day. The next morning I called the supervisor of the greens to explain my need for those marigolds (!), and told me they had been pulled out that morning at 6am! After speaking to the head gardener, she shared directions to a secret road that would lead me through the park, through the golf course, and to a dumpster, where all the marigolds were waiting, to make their way into the landfill.
As I drove up, a beautiful orange and green mirage lay before me. I was giddy with excitement. I quickly went to work and began to cut all the flower heads off, tossing them in a bag. With one full trash bag, it was time to go home and get to work, and experiment with a flower I had never had a chance to work with first hand.
DYEING WITH MARIGOLDS
-Fill a large pot at least half full with marigold flowers. Try not to include the stems.
-Fill them to cover with water. Allow to sit overnight.
-Next day, I used a hand blender to chop the flowers and help release the dye.
-Bring the flowers slowly to boil, and allow them to simmer for one hour.
-Strain into another pot. Now you have your marigold dye. Some people call this the 'dye liquor'.
I used linen, cotton, silk and a small piece of wool to test fibers with the dye. The silk and linen were most successful. Prior to submerging the fibers into the dye pot, I had mordanted the linen and cotton with alum. I then simmered the fabric in the marigold dye for an hour. I then let it sit in the pot overnight.
The following day I removed the items and placed them straight into my dryer. I allowed them to cure overnight, without rinsing. A gentle wash then properly rinsed them.
The resulting colors are a warm yellow, with a hint of chartreuse. The charmeuse silk is divine, and like all silk, soaks up natural dye wonderfully. Linen is an absolute favorite fabric of mine to quilt with and I am glad to say the linen turned out beautifully, too.
If you're ever eye balling a field of marigolds, don't hesitate to ask the land owner, or park conservancy for that matter, if you can have them!
I’m laying on my bed, breastfeeding my daughter Yvonne Rose, who is a day old.
We lay beneath The Sky Quilt, a blanket I built while she was in utero, using for the first time, linen I hand dyed with indigo. The binding is made from an old tablecloth that belonged to her Great Grandparents, and on the back of the quilt, I included a spirit piece, cut from a vintage shirt her daddy bought while living in Germany.
With the quilt draped over our bodies, I am looking at it for the first time, and begin to criticize the hand stitching that holds the quilt together.
I machine piece all of my quilts, but the actual quilting is done by hand. Those three layers: the pieced quilt top, the cotton batting, and the backing, are pulled together with my imperfect little stitches, using a thick cotton thread from Japan called sashiko.
These quilt stitches are so irregular!
There is no symmetry between them!
They are running at warp speed across the patchwork quilt top!
They aren’t even kept in a straight line!
What was I thinking?!
How absurd in that moment, to critique my stitches after having just given birth. I am not a perfectionist, but those stitches are terrible!
What came to the surface, once I asked the editor in my mind to hush, was the message of those hand stiches telling their story, one that is abstract and honest, and far more illustrative than my memories had allowed me to recollect.
For the first time in a year it seemed, I could reflect. My hand quilted lines were like looking into a reflection pond.
The stitches told the story of a mother working a full time corporate job and a part time job for a non-profit Waldorf school, of a mother tending to her pregnant vessel, and her 7 year old, and her husband…. of a mother determined to grow tomatoes with success this year, beneath the stifling blanket of a humid Texas summer, of a mother taking part in an art performance hand quilting live for an audience, of a mother trying to play her part as Maid of Honor in a wedding, of a mother so desperate to finish her baby’s quilt that she threw all concepts of zen and hand quilting meditation out of the window, just to get-it-done!
In the beat of a moment, I could look back at the past year, my baby at my breast, and read the hectic rush that brought us to this beautiful, calm moment.
What makes quilts the magical craft that it is, is the stories.
Her quilt, covering us with warmth, is just the first chapter. These special blankets hold histories and stories told in pattern, color, materials, execution, and place. Talk to any person with a quilt, and they’ll tell you a story about it. It is one of the few objects we have in our lives where threads meander and wander along, to keep families connected, to keep spirits high, to keep bodies warm.
So from that day forward, The Sky Quilt became a journal. It’s not a journal that writes itself, but a journal that is written in spirit.
I’m mindful of the quilt as it travels with us, her piece of home that comes along.
On her first trip to the beach, she laid on the quilt alongside her first Halloween pumpkin, picked up from a patch on the way there. The wind whipped over her little body and her legs floated above her waist. She was at the beach! An ocean full of sand lay beneath her, and she loved it.
On the porch of our holiday cabin, we sun bathed in the winter sun at the foot of Dos Corazones mountains, she broke the wind with her quilt. I stood on my own quilt nearby, our morning ritual that week, stretching to the clear sky above and watching the light change on the landscape.
After our annual New Year’s hike, her first one ever, we lay her on the back of the truck, the quilt beneath her, to give her body a rest from being carried. Above her, wise pine trees stand looking down. She looks up at them and smiles.
On her first trip into a National Park, she laid on the quilt in a patch of blonde straw. Hawks circled above us. Her sister was calling to the skies saying “Guys! You can see the whole world from up here!” Nestled into the landscape, she lay safe, calm with the big world surrounding her.
Yvonne won’t remember the view that day, when the layers of earth painted stripes of purple mountains in front of us, where the Santa Elena Canyon was the only formation that dropped down to the Earth, where we could see across Texas and off into Mexico for miles and miles.
She won’t remember these times, but her quilt will. And I have grown to love those messy hand quilted stitches, a mark in time to remember the days before she arrived.
We've had a rain spell here in Houston as the summer winds down, and with those dark clouds above, the house is stormy feeling. Makes me want muffins!
I love this recipe because you can easily substitute the flax for bran, depending on whatever you have in the pantry. You can also add 1/2 cup of raisins, 1 cup of blueberries or 1 cup of blackberries instead of the strawberries.
I get my 8 year old involved, who wants to be baker when she grows up. The bonus in helping her Mum is she gets to lick the bowl while they bake!
THE BEST STRAWBERRY FLAX MUFFINS
Preheat oven to 375degrees F, grease muffin pan
1 1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, mix regular whole milk with a teaspoon of lemon juice to make buttermilk)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic strawberries washed and diced
Mix flax and milk. Let stand.
Beat together egg, sugar, vanilla and oil.
Add flax mixture.
Sift in flour, baking powder and baking soda.
Mix, then fold in the strawberries.
Bake for 15-20 minutes.
Let stand for 10 minutes, then eat warm
(preferably with a slather of butter in the middle)!
It will take me a lifetime to put down into words and stitches what making quilts means to me. When I became a hand quilter, one of the first things I fell in love with was the ability to take my craft on the road with me, no matter where that road may lead.
Coming from a fine art background as a painter, video and collage artist, I was used to making my work in total isolation, at my desk, standing in my studio, or locked into a pair of headphones while editing video on the computer. While I took my watercolors on hikes a time or two, and painted the view before me, my abstract paintings are very focused meditations that require concentration and calm. Computer editing required electricity after many hours. Making collages meant making tight cuts and precise gluing.
Quilting by hand meant I could quilt in the car, along the coast, while on vacation, beneath the sun, in my garden, on the side of a mountain, among the rocks, among the scrub, and any and every place I wish. It gives me a tremendous freedom I've never felt before.
A quilt comes together as a sum of its parts, but it doesn't really come to life until a little warm body is wrapped in it, or a knapsack of muffins is shared over a pretend pot of tea on top of it.
I thought it would be fun to pull together a collection of the owner's of my quilts thus far - all under the age of 7.
Learning to roll over and sit up, learning to picnic, hanging on them surf side, soaking in the sunshine, are just a few things magic that are happening on these hand stitched quilts.
I would be remiss if I didn't share this easy recipe with you. All you need is figs, sugar, lemons, jars, time and a lil love!
Each year around the 4th of July my fig tree explodes with the plumpest, sweetest jeweled figs, more than we are able to pick and eat within the time frame it requires. I don't know what kind of fig they are, I took a cutting from my neighbors "mother tree" and grew a baby from a 6 inch stem. It's now 8 feet tall by 10 feet wide and produces pounds and pounds of fruit. My experience is that once you pick a fig, you better eat it within a day or two. Otherwise, look for ways to cook with them, or bottle them into delicious fig jam!
THE BEST FIG JAM RECIPE
Wash your figs.
Slice the stems off their tops, cut them in half. I like my jam chunky!
For every cup of figs use half a cup of sugar. (ie. 4 cups of figs, use 2 cups of sugar.)
Stir your figs and sugar into a heavy pot on the stove top at a low temp until sugar is dissolved.
For every 2 cups of figs, squeeze half a lemon into the pot. This is the pectin agent.
Turn stove up to medium until it boils, then reduce to a bubbling simmer for one hour.
Stir frequently to avoid the bottom burning.
Test the thickness of your jam by putting a dollop onto a saucer. Place into the freezer for 3 minutes.
Take it out, turn saucer on its side and if it slowly runs, then your jam is the perfect consistency.
If not, simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Continue testing for desired consistency.
Ladle your hot jam into clean sterilized jars.
Then wait for the lids to POP!
Once cooled, add your label.
Hot fresh scones with fig jam and real whipped cream on a fall morning... I can't wait!
It's been two weeks since I returned home from QuiltCon. I'm still fueled by the energy, ideas and wisdom I experienced in one February weekend. And I imagine I'll hold the energy for a while. When something has moments that are transcendent, you don't let go of those moments easily.
This year was different for me than QuiltCon 2013. At that time I wasn't a quilter. I had been visiting quilt shows for years as an admirer of the craft, design and history that quilting encapsulates. As a painter and collage artist, I would admire how the parts were put together to make a whole. How those parts become a object that comforts us and lives with us. Sometimes the quilts I saw returned back into my 2D paper and canvas based work. But it was a few months after the first QuiltCon, hosted by the Modern Quilt Guild, that I stepped into the realm of the quilt world, and began contributing to the movement and history. Of course I'll never look back!
At the urgency of my dear quilter friend Jeanne, who has been by my side on this path to becoming a quilter (she is so knowledgeable about quilt making, quilt preservation, and Texas History, I could listen to her talk all day) I entered. "You gotta do it!" she said. "I'll have better ones next time," I told her. "Ms. OD's Flying Quilt" was accepted, and my journey to QuiltCon this time would include seeing my work on show for the first time, at a large scale quilt exhibition. Other quilters ("my people") would see my work. This was exciting.
But what was most exciting from the first announcement of QuiltCon 2015 was that the Gee's Bend Quilters of Alabama were the headlining artists. I had my ticket for QuiltCon before I even knew my work was accepted. I have adored their work from the moment I laid eyes on their spirited, improvised, musical quilts. I own their books, I've watched their videos, I've seen their quilts in major exhibitions at art museums. But I've never heard them speak about their craft, their life, their song. To hear an artist speak about their work, an artist who you truly admire, brings you to the reminder of their humanity, and how we are all in this together. How we work along similar parallel lines in the way we build our work. How beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That the way we create is as unique to each of us, as each person's story is as unique from one story to the next.
Hundreds of people packed the auditorium on Saturday night to listen to the 4 women from Gee's Bend tell stories about hardship, life in rural Alabama, why they began quilting, what drives them, how thankful they are to God. They opened their talk with the Gospel song "Don't Bring Me Flowers When I'm Dead." When the singing began, these four voices filled the room with authenticity, and I couldn't hold back the tears. There was something so powerful in those strong voices that hit the center of my heart. I was witnessing a moment in time that each person in that audience will hold in their hearts forever. I was being sung to by my heroines. They, inspire me.
Sunday morning was Maura Ambrose of Folk Fibers' talk on Natural Dyeing for Quilters. I fell in love with Maura's work the moment I laid eyes on it. To me, her work is authentic, and reaches back in time to make something current and timeless. I find most of my inspiration from the past as a lover of art and textile history. Naturally Maura's work speaks to me.
I love the labor she invests in her work, from dyeing her fabric naturally, to hand quilting her quilts. The process alone is admirable. She credits the past and is generous in sharing her knowledge about the alchemy natural dyeing requires. I thank you for that Maura!
Her talk was lovely and accessible and left me filled with electricity for what spring has to offer. More in the indigo dyeing department. I loved the process when I tried it in 2014 and love the results. I loved chatting with her about motherhood and what it means to be a hand quilter. I look forward to future workshops and learning more from her. And I can't wait for her Guide Books!
At the end of her talk was a lady waiting to say hello. It was Lotta Jansdotter. Did I witness the meeting of two brilliant textile artists with ideas for future collaborations? Oh we hope so.
And there was also the overall show of QuiltCon to enjoy, and the shopping (I could have spent a fortune on double gauze...) and meeting fellow quilters whose work I love and whom I've only met in the digital realm. Natalie Bearden is one of them. I loved meeting her and her daughter and chatting about quilting, color, being from the Southern Hemisphere (she is Brazilian) and motherhood. I loved feeling all the different textiles each vendor had to offer and picking up a pattern here or there in the attempt to begin making my daughter clothes. I loved seeing Season Evans work in person, hanging near mine. I loved the energy of being in a room full of others who are possessed by the process of creating and building quilts.
Congratulations to everyone whose work was in the show, and to the Modern Quilt Guild for organizing a well run event that inspired so many of us. You guys, and you quilters, rock.
I leave you with a few of my favorite quilts in the show. What was your favorite thing about QuiltCon 2015?
A place to share my quilting process and other discoveries. Join in the conversation and follow along on Instagram @campfirequilts